Practice English Speaking&Listening with: The Most Bizarre Mysteries of Space

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Given that we know the universe is infinite, it should come as no surprise that the things

weve found beyond our planet tend to be a bit bizarre.

But the really surprising thing is that every time scientists think theyve figured something

out, they discover something newand in some cases, more than a little troublingthat

disrupts the theories they spent so long developing and proving.

It may come as a surprise, considering how intensely we look out onto the stars, that

even in our own backyard there are things scientists just dont understand.


Why and How is Space So Noisy?

In space no one can hear you scream,” goes the famous tagline to one of the all-time

hits of science fiction horror, Alien.

However, scientists have discovered that contrary to the commonly-held belief, space is incredibly


The problem is that theyre not sure why.

Especially concerning is what scientists have referred to asspace roar,” comprised

of odd, extremely loud radio signals bouncing around all over the place, along with some

other signals that scientists just cant explain.

The discovery came in 2006, when a NASA balloon mission with the intention of catching faint

radio waves indicating stars formed early in the history of the universe instead caught

a loud blast of noise.

Theories for what is causing the constant noise include a lot of options from the very

radiation the mission was trying to detect to gas swirls and even the noise of galaxies

themselves, but so far none of those theories adds up.


The Great Attractor

Some 220 million light years away, something is pulling our galaxy towards itself.

What is it?

Scientists dont really knowbecause they havent been able to actually see the objector

objectscausing the reaction.

The Great Attractor is what the gravitational anomaly has been called, and most of our knowledge

of it is indirect, including the theories about why we dont know more.

The Great Attractor was first discovered in the 1970s, in the sector of the sky that scientists

have namedthe Zone of Avoidance.”

For decades, scientists avoided looking there becausebeing in the same direction as the

center of our galaxyits full of gas and dust and other debris, making it harder

for earlier-generation instruments to pick out anything in particular among the noise.

But that discovery showed us that the Milky Way galaxy, along with several others in our

local group, are definitely being pulled towards something.

More recent astronomical technology has allowed us to look more closely into the Zone of Avoidance,

enough to see a large supercluster of galaxies near The Great Attractor called the Norma


However, even as big as the Norma Cluster is, scientists have already ruled it out as

a candidate for The Great Attractor.

Fortunately, scientists are fairly certain that this particular anomaly isnt going

to destroy our galaxy any time soon, considering the much more immediate and closer-to-home

threats that are out there.


Giant Voids

How can there be a void within a void?

Space is generally considered the ultimate void: after all, normal matter only makes

up between 1 and 10% of the known universe, so automatically, the rest should be void.

But it turns out that some parts of space are just a little too empty, a little too


Voids come in varying sizes, and generally are discovered viacold spotsin the

map of cosmic microwave background (CMB) charted by astronomers across the known universe.

Little pockets of nothing are not that strange, but big pockets of the known universe where

there are few if any stars are another thing entirely.

The largest void theorized to exist is actually very close: the KBC void, also known as the

local hole, is theorized to house the Milky Way galaxy, along with our local cluster.

If the observations of the scientists its named after (Ryan Keenan, Amy Barger, and

Lennox Cowie) are correct, our galaxy is in a hole that may be anywhere from 1 to 2 billion

light-years across, situated a few hundred million lightyears away from the center.

The Boötes void, discovered in the 1980s, is approximately 250 million lightyears across,

seems to have only about 60 galaxies in it.

For comparison, our own galaxy (which as noted before is in its own rather large hole) has

over two dozen galactic neighbors.

Why are these patches of nothing important?

For one thing: they challenge our existing ideas of the formation of the universe and

just how old our universe is.

Even the billions of years we know the universe hasnt existed shouldnt have been long

enough for regular spreading to create giant holes of nothing.

Which leads to the other reason: the voids could, some scientists theorize, be created

by surges of dark energy.

Ultimately, however, nobody knows why the universe seems to be dotted with these random,

enormous holes with little to nothing visibly going on in them.


Saturns Moons

While the broader area of space beyond our backyard is full of mysteries, its a common

assumption that we have a pretty good handle on whats going on in our own solar system.

Which makes it strange indeed that we recently discovered a brand-new moon circling Saturn.

Peggy,” as the tiny, possibly disintegrating satellite is called, was discovered in 2013,

when NASAs Cassini snapped a picture of Saturns rings, and caught disturbances

that suggested the formation of a new moon.

The discovery did shed light on how Saturn has managed to acquire so many moons62

confirmed, with 150 satellite objects of different sizesbut it also opened up more questions,

including how stable the moons of Saturn truly are.

Since Cassini went dark in 2017, theres no real way of knowing if Peggy is even still

present; JPL speculated that the diminutive moon was unlikely to get any bigger, and in

fact was much likelier to disintegrate.

Itll be some time before another mission can make it to the ringed planet, in order

to get close enough to confirm or deny.


Something is blocking us from seeing the light from a faraway star

A star approximately 1,500 light years away from us, unofficially namedTabbys Star

or KIC 8462852, is notable for having another, much less formal nickname: “WTF star.”

In this instance, WTF stands for two different acronyms, the more polite one beingwheres

the flux?”

Thats because somethingand to date, scientists arent sure whatis blocking

us from seeing approximately 20% of the light from the star.

Theories on what could be blocking the light range wildly: Tabetha Boyajian, who the star

is named for, speculated that it could be a Dyson Swarm, a theoretical megastructure

proposed to be used by advanced civilizations to harvest energy output from a star.

Of course, this explanation hasnt sat well with anyone, and from the time Boyajian announced

her findings of the stars odd pattern of dimming in 2013, various scientists have sought

to explain the variability and dimness, with the most recent papers published in 2019.

However, to date, nothing has fully explained why the star is being blocked.


New Black Hole Discoveries Continue to Prove We Dont Know Black Holes That Well

Now that scientists have captured the first image of a black hole, the odd phenomenon

seems almost mundane in comparison to how scientists and laypeople alike used to consider

them: just another stage of stellar evolution, and what happens to very large stars when

they burn out.

However, just as scientists have begun thinking that they understand the fundamentals of the

phenomenon, theyve encountered another curve ball: some of the supermassive black

holes theyve discovered are just too big and too young to exist, given our understanding

of the age of the universe and how the structures form.

In 2017, scientists discovered one of the biggest, most distant supermassive black holes

to exist: the object formed when the universe was only 5% of its current age, something

that shouldnt have been able to happen in the first place.

Add to that the sheer mass of the object, and scientists are even more puzzled.

There simply isnt enough time, according to what scientists know about the age of the

universe, for an object that large to happen.

More recently, Chinese scientists found another monster of a supermassive black hole closer

to home: 13,800 lightyears away from Earth, its 68 times heavier than our sun, which

just shouldnt be possible.

The discoveries just prove that the moment scientists are certain they understand the

mechanics of the mysteries of space, something is certain to come along and throw another

wrench into the theories.


How Many Planets are Actually in Our Solar System?

Everyone learns that there are eight (or, prior to 2006, nine) planets in our solar

system; there are even multiple mnemonic devices for remembering the names in the right order.

But more recently, models following the movement of objects in our solar system have indicated

that that fundamental understanding might be entirely wrong.

In 2005, astronomer Mike Brown of Caltech discovered an object larger than Pluto in

the Kuiper Belt, which itself triggered a scientific revolution: since there were objects

larger than Pluto beyond its orbit, the then-ninth planet was demoted todwarf-planetstatus

by the International Astronomical Union.

Fast forward to 2016, and Brown came back with solid evidence of another planet beyond

Pluto, this one the size of Neptune.

The difficulty comes in, however, with just how far away the massive planet is: so distant

that we effectively cant see it.

In fact, the way Brown and his colleagues discovered the planet is only through looking

at models for the orbits of existing planets and known bodies in our solar system.

As scientists look into how to prove or disprove the planets existence, a bigger question

continues to loom: just how big is our solar system, and are there even more planet-sized

objects, even further out, that we just cant see?


How Do Solar Systems Develop and Evolve?

For decades, the development of our solar system was settled science: rocky planets

like Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars formed early on, since the harder materials that

made them up could withstand the intense heat closer to the sun.

Over time, gas giants like Saturn, Jupiter, and Uranus came about from lighter materialsice,

liquids, gasthat came together in the colder region further away from the sun.

But once again, more recent observations from outside of our solar system have brought that

into question: gas giant planets calledhot Jupitersandhot Neptunesthat are

much, much closer to their star open up the question of whether they formed closer to

their sun, or if they migrated there over time.

As scientists seek out exoplanetsthat is, planets circling stars outside of our solar

systemthe generally accepted theory of how our own celestial neighborhood formed

has met bigger challenges.

Hot Jupiters and hot Neptunes are gas giant planets that orbit close to their stars, in

a few instances as close as 1 AU (thats the same distance between the Earth and the


What scientists cant agree on is whether the gas giants actually formed so close to

the star theyre orbiting, or whether theyve been drawn closer and closer over time.

The answer to that questionif it can ever be determinedcould tell us a lot about

how our own solar system formed and its ultimate fate: did the giants in our system spread

out over time, or will they be pulled in like a death spiral?


How Did the UniversesDark AgeEnd?

Space is mostly darkthats the accepted understanding, and its not exactly wrong

from an observational perspective.

So it may be surprising to know that there was an era in the universe when it was even

darker: a period starting about 300,000 years after the Big Bang and ending approximately

500 million years after the beginning of the universe when gases were so dense that light

wasnt able to penetrate or travel.

In short, the universe was as dark as it is possible to be, everywhere.

And then, seemingly just as suddenly, that ceased to be the case: all at once, the universe

reionized, and slowly gases began to pull together into structures that we can recognize


But why and how?

Scientists dont know.

Observations of cosmic microwave background and the areas where were able to see the

earliest formation of the universe tell us that it did happenin fact, we wouldnt

exist if it hadntbut because those areas are still dense with gases, its nearly

impossible to observe in such a way to get answers.

Scientists are so perplexed, in fact, that theories on it are fairly thin on the ground:

cosmologists and astronomers and theoretical physicists alike are still bent on trying

to find something to observe from which to start forming theories.

All we know at this point is that approximately 500 million years after the Big Bang, something

metaphorically gave the opaque and neutral universe a shake, and the gases and dusts

began to settle into specific structures that would lead to stars, planets, galaxies, clusters,

and everything else weve been able to identify.


What Came Before the Big Bang?

After a great deal of controversy, astronomers and physicists discovered fundamental evidence

of theBig Bang,” the event that began the universe as we know it.

The question still plaguing scientists, though, is: what was the universe like before the

Big Bang?

Clearly, if something could explode, something was therebut what was it, and how did it

behave, and how did it create such an enormous explosion that the known universe still feels

the effects billions of years later?

Scientists used to think that the universe was timeless: it always existed, it would

continue to exist into infinity.

But the evidence of physics and cosmology alike points conclusively to a set beginning


As things stand right now, we know what happened starting one second after the Big Bang, when

the universe cooled off sufficiently for subatomic particles like protons and neutrons to stick


But we have no way currently to know how the Big Bang itself happenedwhich means that

theres no way to say what the universe looked like before it.

The most commonly-accepted theories revolve around a superdense, ultra-hot collection

of material, but scientists in favor of that theory cant agree whether it was an infinite

stretch, or infinitely tiny.

Other theories include the possibility that the Big Bang wasnt a one-time event, but

instead a recurring onethough of course, on such a massive scale that life as we know

it will long since be extinct before it recurs.

Some theories even suggest that prior to the Big Bang, there was fundamentally nothing

at all: that the entire universe of matter exploded into existence out of a void.

Its more likely that well never know than that well ever find out, and the late

Stephen Hawking suggested that the answer isnt even important: sincebefore the

Big Bangis essentially before time, whatever was present cant be observed, and is ultimately


But that fact doesnt stop people from wondering.

The Description of The Most Bizarre Mysteries of Space